Support via the DSA is often a key factor in whether a student is successful at university or not. Generally, I was happy with the support I received via the DSA. My assessor was quick to understand my needs and was happy to recommend for me to have a braille note and a Mac. However, there were issues surrounding the number of hours allocated for mobility training. The DSA assessor failed to give me enough hours to account for the fact that I was doing a year abroad. This meant that I arrived in France only to find that there was no funding available for the training I needed. I was eventually able to obtain more. But the DSA doesn’t work well when you need more of something.
Student socials are a great way to make friends and meet people and this is often where blind and vision impaired students really struggle. How do they know what’s available and how do they get there? My university gave me a student mentor, who could take me to the societies fair so that I could sign on to the societies I wanted to join. It was then a question of explaining to students how they could support me. Fortunately, students became aware of my needs quickly and were always happy to guide me to events and support me at events. It wasn’t long before my blindness became something people automatically took into consideration.
That said, staff and students were hesitant to approach me, particularly when meeting me for the first time. I don’t believe there was any malice involved. People want to do the right thing. But they don’t know how to and the fear of getting it wrong or causing offence did sometimes result in a reluctance to engage with me. But I found that this was resolved once I had put people at ease. The problem is that you need to be open in order to be successful and very few are good self-advocates.
This self-advocacy was definitely required when it came to accessing information. Student societies often use social media, which wasn’t a problem. But within the university itself, this was a big problem. The email system wasn’t accessible, which meant that I had to have emails diverted to my private account. My university also used a learning platform called WebCT, which was impossible to use. Tutors were happy to send information to me by email. But it was always frustrating not really being on an equal playing field with my peers. Making services accessible isn’t difficult if you do it during the design phase. But it’s difficult and costly if done later.